Piano's Jerome L. Greene Sciences Center to open at Columbia University in 2016
Universities around the world are building dedicated centers for the study of the brain and New York’s Columbia University is no exception. For ten years now, Columbia has longed to build an innovative, multidisciplinary hub for brain research but found it difficult to do on its densely built up Morningside Heights campus without compromising the very qualities that attract students, researchers,and faculty to its world class university. Now with a new 17-acre campus expansion underway in West Harlem, Columbia is constructing new buildings to house new programs, including a cutting-edge facility for brain research.
Designed by Renzo Piano, who is also master-planning the new campus, The Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, named for the eponymous publisher and real estate developer, will be the first of 15 new buildings realised on the new campus. It will be housed within a 450,000 sq ft glass tower, named for Jerome L. Greene, a Manhattan lawyer and real estate developer, have 70 labs and entrances on all four sides in recognition that it is an open campus.
Lee Bollinger, Columbia’s President, believes the new center will be a game changer for the university and he believes also that architecture will play a big part in its success. “You walk into a great space and you automatically think better. You think you are smarter and you are smarter", said Bollinger.
His belief that architecture can bring about great results is cautiously shared by the scientists who will take up residency in the new building. They are more reserved about what if any role the building will play in the Institute’ s eventual success - in its becoming a nexus of innovation and discovery.
Speaking to the Wall Street Journal last week, Tom Jessel, a Nobel laureate and one of Institute’s co-founders said: “The architects have come in with this conceptual vision of transparency and open space and interaction, and then the scientists have come in with the pragmatic view that there are many great, great architectural iconic buildings that don’t work as buildings for science.” With brilliant thinkers like Jessel for clients who as scientists are also wired to be skeptical, Renzo Piano has his work cut out for him.
Piano’s challenge will be to maintain intimacy and a sense of community in a very large structure that will house 1,000 scientists where spaces are needed for gatherings for as few as 1 to 3 people and as large as 150-200. Circulation within the building will be key as it is often in the most unlikely places, such as hallways, atriums, and support spaces like cafes and lounges that brilliant ideas are sparked.
Piano has designed in a high level of transparency so there is indeed potential for excellent communication to occur within and beyond the building’s walls. Seven stories of tall labs have been woven together with lounges and staircases for unplanned encounters to occur. At the base of the building a neighborhood clinic is planned and an education center to teach residents about neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.
To be completed in 2016, the Jerome L. Greene Science Center is poised to be a new nexus - a beacon for Columbia’s new campus, a signal of promising new work in the neurosciences field, and a conciliatory hand reaching out to the neighborhood that desperately fought its arrival.
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